Pursuit of happiness at risk? Yes, he could

Editorial, Published, inThe India Express, January 12, 2017

As illiberal winds gust harder, Obama pleads compellingly for a measured calm in politics.


James(Note: Is the liberal culture dead and buried with the advent of Trump, tottering Brexit and Hillary’s drop to the abyss at Putin’s hack? Pursuit of happiness may the pronounced and publicized goal of the American nation. But it has always been and is, the unconquerable hidden drive of all nations of the world which brought us to the globalized world that we are in today. If so how could Obama’s be a disparaged dead language?

People’s happiness lie buried  in People’s (all people’s) welfare “secured only by liberal values, inclusive politics and respect for the traditions of democracy” and only  in a system “secured  by liberal values, inclusive politics and respect for the traditions of democracy” and where institutions do not humiliate the citizens, and whose citizens do not humiliate each other, as the editorial says forcefully. Therefore the battle for survival now is between the insecure majorities – whether in India, Brexit or Trump land – and industrious minorities the world over.

True globalization stands on a tripod – (1) Free unfettered movement of ideas now achieved through internet (2) Free movement of goods and services, achieved  partially only where it is profitable to importing and exporting nations and (3) Free movement of people (labour, migrants) across borders which has become the bone of contention in Europe and US. The last, being the core trait of true globalization, we stand divided, each one demanding its pound of flesh to open its borders, even when we all cry aloud “united we stand, divided we fall.”

Instead of facing this harsh truth, we seek refuge in the travesties of “post truth”  and “alt truth” we discussed in our earlier note. Pursuit of happiness just for a few is as crazy a proposition as “an island of affluence in a sea of misery”.  james kottoor, editor).


Barack Obama demits office with a message couched in what is now disparaged as a dead language, to remind the world that the liberal culture which speaks it is alive and well.

 While a wave of small-minded, negative politics appears to be sweeping across continents, the outgoing US president underlines — eloquently and powerfully — that the people’s welfare can be secured only by liberal values, inclusive politics and respect for the traditions of democracy. Essentially, he has invoked what Israeli-American philosopher Avishai Margalit calls “the decent society”, whose institutions do not humiliate the citizens, and whose citizens do not humiliate each other.

The people of so many of the world’s great democracies are seeking refuge in the politics of humiliation and aggression. Insecure majorities are too easily convinced that they are losing the struggle for survival to industrious minorities. Obama warns that without a sense of equal economic opportunity, nations will be riven by the differences which divide them. At the same time, he insists that a monologue, while democracy is built out of dialogue, out of differences.

This is a strong plea on behalf of migrancy, which was a prominent electoral question in 2016, tilting the US and some European nations rightwards. Indeed, the global economy will remain fundamentally skewed so long as it promotes the globalisation of trade and capital but curbs the movement of labour. Obama offers an equally compelling argument against the now fashionable notion of post-truth realities, and the self-reinforcing echo chambers in which such travesties of the objective world are hatched and promoted.

Illiberal politics is a broad spectrum phenomenon. Its practitioners range from the extremity of terrorists claiming divine sanction to mainstream political leaders deploying electronic propaganda machines and nurturing a culture of fear to keep competitors in control. The sovereign remedy for this poison is not mere party politics, but fundamental democratic beliefs which form the bedrock of the democratic system — “the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press.”

And, most importantly, it depends on respect for institutions and their practices. Towards the beginning of his speech in his home city of Chicago, the crowd had begun to chant: “Four more years.” The outgoing president crisply retorted: “I can’t do that.” And he noted that despite their differences, he was committed to a smooth transfer of office to Donald Trump, just as George Bush had handed over charge to him. Obama may not have been able to convince the electorate that his party’s candidate should have been his successor. But in his farewell speech, he has reminded the world that without liberal, inclusive values, only the few will succeed in the pursuit of happiness.

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